Of a hundred pieces of foolishness that Jack Kent Cooke recognizes as part of sports today--and we'll get to Al Davis in a second--the Redskins' owner reserves the grand prize for two NFL teams that chose this spring to announce an increase in ticket prices.
"Jumpin' Jehoshaphat," Cooke said, and we hadn't even talked about Tom Cousineau's deal yet, let alone the players union proposal that they be paid a fixed percentage of all NFL revenue.
The daily newspaper for a year has been a one-way ticket to gloom, an unrelenting march of soldiers of depression quoting unemployment figures. About when the people who screw together Fords and Chevys said they'd work for less, the NFL announced a $2 billion television package that meant a raise of almost $7 million in profits per team next year.
There's the prospect of a players' strike, too, with the hired hands clamoring for more money, lots more money than their $75,000 average, even as lots of people wondered if they could afford to fix the television to watch these poor fellows work.
So we have $7 million per team in found money. We have the prospect of a players strike that will irritate everybody, especially the customers who, as baseball discovered, don't forgive quickly. And yet Cooke paced the library of his home, having turned away from a television picture of Al Davis, as if too long a look might be hazardous to his mental health, and said it was true that two NFL teams have raised their ticket prices.
"They need their heads read," Cooke said.
Not a single NFL owner voted to allow Davis to move from Oakland to Los Angeles, arguing that a decade of sellouts had demonstrated Oakland's allegiance and proper claim to the Raiders. Davis took the NFL to court with an antitrust suit that charged the league's members with conspiring to limit competition. It was unconstitutional, Davis' lawyers argued, for an owner to be denied the right to set up shop on any corner he wanted.
Small wonder, then, that with Davis' victory in court two days ago we now hear Jack Kent Cooke, who may be considered representative of NFL ownership, saying the courts must stop any immediate move of the Raiders. Not only that, Cooke said, the NFL must pursue this case as far as possible, perhaps even to the Supreme Court, or else the face of sports will be changed forever, and not for the better.
Q. Is the court's decision a threat to the stability of the NFL?
Cooke. "If the decision stands, it is a threat to the stability of the league and, more important, the stability of professional sports. I can't imagine it standing. The rule of reason is truly involved here, because to ask six women or six men, or six of all almost any creature that can understand the English language, to fathom the intricacies and complexities of the Sherman Antitrust Act is asking for the moon.
"It means the nefarious type of sports owner, the greedy sports owner, could play a few years in a town, skim the cream off that city, make unreasonable demands of the city and, if the city is unable to meet those demands, could simply say good-bye, I'm now going off to another city which is eager to have me and which will give me everything I'm asking for.
"You then could have--apart from the larger cities of America, the Los Angeleses, the Chicagos, the New Yorks--almost a gypsy caravan of sports leagues."
The first step in preventing what Cooke characterizes as "total chaos" should the Raiders move and then be ordered back to Oakland is necessarily a court order stopping any immediate transfer of the franchise.
"I hope a stay is issued at once," Cooke said, "and that the Raiders remain in Oakland until this thing has been thoroughly vented by every court in the land, which may be necessary. In other words, it may go to the Supreme Court, if the Supreme Court will hear it."
Q. If a chain of grocery stores is subject to antitrust laws, why shouldn't a chain of football teams be subject to them?
Cooke (in smiling nonanswer). "If you'll explain to me the intricacies and complexities of the Sherman Antitrust Act, I'll be on solid ground from which to answer you."
Thirty-one years ago Cooke bought into sports as owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League, and while he doesn't pine for the good old days, he senses that roving mercenaries of today's big-money market have caused "a lessening of the fun."
"It's wrong," he said. "I don't think the players should be indentured to an owner, but I think there's too much of the hopscotching. I love baseball, but I cannot keep track of which players play for which teams. There should be a moderation here."
Q. Speaking of big money, the Cleveland Browns reportedly gave linebacker Tom Cousineau a $1 million bonus with a five-year contract at $500,000 a year. Any reaction?
Cooke. "It's outrageously wrong, and particularly as it applies to football, which is more of a team sport than any other. I believe that one man cannot make a winning team out of an average team. I think in terms of O.J. Simpson at Buffalo. He didn't make that much of a difference."
Q. Is your objection to the money? Or are you implying the money would hurt a team's morale?
Cooke. "Not the money. My objection clearly is the discrimination against the rest of those players. I read that Cousineau will be paid 50 percent more individually than the entire Cleveland starting defense was paid last year. Is this man worth 50 percent more than 11 men made together? I say emphatically no, and I can't imagine anybody contradicting that."
Q. The Cousineau case, and Renaldo Nehemiah's auction, seem to indicate that free agency promotes high salaries. Do you agree with Jack Donlan, management's collective bargaining negotiator, that players ought to get more money but not by means of the union's share-the-gross concept?
Cooke. "That share-the-gross formula is madness. If it weren't for free enterprise at the end of the 18th century, we'd still be an appendage of England. Unless there is some monumental law passed forcing me to do it, I am not paying any share of the gross to any man who works for me. It defies everything that I have found at the core of the spirit of free enterprise.
"Yes, I believe the players deserve more money, and I'm prepared to pay them more. The best example of that is the Joe Theismann signing (after which Theismann said Cooke "gave me more money than I was asking for"). Never mind about talking, I did it. . . . This is going to be the method of averting a strike. Anyway, I'm not at all sure a majority of players truly want a percentage of the gross revenue. I'm not at all sure a majority are willing to carry that to the end."
Q. Why don't the owners, if they dislike the players' proposal, offer a proposal?
Cooke. "I don't know the procedures of the negotiations. But I think when they get down to the hard tussling of the negotiation, gradually both sides will see some of the merits that the other side is espousing."
No more basketball for the former owner of the Lakers, and no more hockey for the old owner of the Kings. ("I see a lessening of fan support for those sports.") No second thoughts on missing a deal with Nehemiah ("I wish him well with the 49ers"). No domed stadium ("A syndicate still wants to do it, but I prefer RFK").
"I can't imagine moving the Redskins from Washington," Cooke said as Al Davis' image fluttered on the television. This is Cooke's third year as a resident of Upperville, Va. "Here I am, I'm living here, this is my hometown. And I must say, however corny it sounds, I've been in England, Spain, France, Canada and the U.S., and I've never seen fans like Redskin fans. Wherever I go, they are exciting and excitable, rabid--yes, mad about the Redskins."